New Work: Dual Purpose
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Spectral Realms # is now available. This was going to be the last of these journals of contemporary weird poetry and criticism, edited by S. T. Joshi, but Hippocampus Press have announced a reprieve. What is even better news is it contains a sonnet of mine, entitled "Dual Purpose", that I started writing in Quebec and completed in Maine. Also including work by Ashley Dioses, Wade German, Charles Danny Lovecraft, K. A. Opperman and Michelle Claire White, plus poetry and an essay by Leigh Blackmore on the poems of Walter de la Mare, it will keep you mired in unhallowed gloom for months!

"Dual Purpose" is in fact my first sonnet ever. I have simply never found the right idea until now. As it is a comparatively short form, I can only give you the barest taste.

"A lantern casts a shadow in the day,

"And little things of darkness fight for room..."

A Goth's Night In
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So, the non-allergic reactions occasioned by your non-immunodisorder have conspired to keep you home, again. You will no more be attending the Sanctuary reunion on Saturday night than you were able to attend the Hellfire Club Halloween party (living as far south as you can and still claim to be in Sydney is also a factor). The humidity is vile and the cats are sulking. So what's to be done? Time for a goth's night in!



Now, obviously you can light candles, wear fingerless gloves and play The Tea Party at a reasonable volume or in headphones. But on nights like this, that's simply not enough. It will not assuage the craving, the soul-deep hunger, to break free from the everyday and stalk the night in your true guise. To twist and turn, one of a black-clad coterie in a fog-shrouded maze, lit only by green lasers.

CobwebClubxtra

I once staged a very small goth club in my apartment for a film shoot (this was the same one that involved having three coffins in my garage). I draped every visible surface (except the dart board) in black cloth, set out my skulls, strung some cobwebs, put a red gel over the light and there it was. This option is available to you, to the extent your cats will permit. With corset on, eyes half-closed, and Temptation thundering in your ears, the illusion can be quite convincing. After all, you don't actually need to talk to anyone. But nonetheless, after a while of doing this the irresistible truth filters through: it is not the same. There is a real difference between pretending to be alone in a crowd of people, and gyrating on your own in a corner of the study. And dancing in headphones is dangerous. Don't ask how I know this.

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Old Work: The Land of Bad Dreams
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It's hard to believe, but it has been five whole years since my poetry collection and first solo book was published by P'rea Press.

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Editor Charles Danny Lovecraft, compositor David E. Schultz and designer David Schembri all did a wonderful job with this release, which has been described as "...a rich, eccentric miscellany of dark music, skilfully crafted and strangely wrought." (Ann K. Schwader) and "...a carnival of life's cruel and grotesque side, with much pageantry and dark laughter." (K, J. Bishop). It includes such oddities as the Rhysling-nominated "The Kite" and "The Soldier's Return", as well as "The Feast of Mistrust", which has been described as "an involuntary epic" (me, in the instalment I wrote for the Blood and Spades column in the HWA newsletter). The entire Predation City triptych, consisting of "The Bat's Boudoir", "The Cat's Cortege" and "The Rat's Repast". Perfomance pieces, such as "The Torturer's Confession".

Nicely illustrated, if I do say so myself, including an interview and a bibliography that was comprehensive at the time, I am still as pleased as punch with this volume. In fact, I'm going to share with you the very first poem it includes.

The DEAD leave no token
But DECAY and fade:
Shall our bond be broken
By this new DECAYed?
O lest our lives resume
DeluDEAD and faDEAD,
I declare this volume
to be DEAD DECAY DEAD.

Should you wish to explore, http://www.preapress.com/books.php?isbn=9780980462579 is the way to go. Or, should you wish to see me in full swing as The Torturer, then head straight here!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ex-RSQP0rc

Review: Bad Blood
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Bad Blood
By Gary Kemble, Echo Publishing, 2016

bad-blood

A Review by Kyla Lee Ward

A copy of this book was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

After the terrifying events of the previous book in this series, the journalist Harry Hendricks may believe that nothing can get under his skin.

"Men are so easy to control. It's so easy to get into their heads. I've been in your head this week, haven't I?"

He may be more confident than he used to be, but Harry's no fool. When a young man contacts him, claiming to have been sexually abused at an exclusive school, he knows he's starting on a dangerous path. When disparate suicides across Brisbane leave identical notes, claiming to act in the name of the Goddess, he knows that the world of magic and spirits is stirring once again. He's been training in the martial arts, but he knows when to reach out to his friends for help; Sandy, the psychic, and Dave, the medical student. The tattoo their last adventure left on the back of his neck is still providing protection. What he doesn't understand is that nothing avails against the evil you invite to enter.

Harry looked down. "Yes, Mistress."

The great strength of this book and the previous Skin Deep (Echo Publishing, 2015) is their psychological realism. Kemble persuades the supernatural to emerge from circumstances and emotions that are only too natural. The way unease seeps in, as coincidences mount up. The way the mind fights to maintain its boundaries, both of the real and of self. Grief. Guilt. Rage. What makes Harry such a compelling character is his strength, to be sure: his professionalism and flashes of insight. But it is his vulnerabilities that encourage the reader to accompany him on this chilling journey.

"Of course I have. And I'm going to stay there."

To read the full review, go here.

Review: The Time of the Ghosts
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The Time of the Ghosts
By Gillian Polack, Satalyte Publishing, 2015

TimeofGhostsweb
A Review by Kyla Lee Ward

"It's a matter of cultural transfer. We bring our ghosts and fears with us into new lands. We carry them deep within us… Some of those deep constructs lend themselves particularly well to mapping."

This book is about mapping Canberra. Its tools are history, folk tales, bloodlines, hauntings: all the real markers of place and an individual's position within in. If this individual happens to be a five hundred year old fairy (variety, Melusine; type, snark), it provides a very useful key to the unfolding terrain of ghosts, werewolves, abbey lubbers, dark whispers, a cat vampire, a barghast and the three kindly, kind-of witches attempting to restore the order that all this cultural transfer has upset.

But, like Kat, the fifteen-year-old runaway drawn into this milieu, you will need to be patient. You will have to be willing to do some of the lifting and your own thinking, and trust that this story will work out in its own time. Even though this is the real world, "…where real people run away rather than kicking ass. What if Melusine was scared?"

Dr Gillian Polack does not compose simple books, although the various historical vignettes, present-day supernatural encounters and dinner parties are all cast in lovely, clear prose (and those scattered pieces dated some ten years later – watch out for those). It's the way they are fitted together: like the menus of those dinner parties, some of which are overtly magical. A garden can be magical if the right trees and herbs are laid out in the right configuration. And the torturous thought processes of a teenager can be among the most potent configurations of all. When the very streets are turning on you, it doesn't pay to dismiss intuition, and it certainly would not pay to skip a "slow" paragraph or dismiss a seemingly irrelevant detail. I found myself flipping back and forth, to make sure that something indeed read as I remembered and that this latest snippet meant what I thought. Polack doesn't cheat: the information is all there. But this map isn't going to show you the quickest route, rather, the most meaningful.

To read the full review, go here.

It's All A Con!
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San Diego immediately reminded me of a sprawling, somewhat scrubbier Manly: especially all the gum trees. As we journeyed deeper, the cascades of prickly pear beside freshly-built shopping malls began reminding me of western Sydney, only here, everyone was so amazingly polite. Even the homeless, who do not speak or even make eye contact but hunch in the gravel, holding up signs that tell of hunger, misfortune and appallingly serious medical complaints. On the walk to the local Walmart, barely ten minutes away from the convention center, I saw more amputees than I have anywhere since the set of Mad Max : Fury Road.

There was supposed to be a Mad Max mass çosplay happening on the Saturday, but of that I saw no sign.

In order to convey something of my convention experience without descending into a kalidoscope of three-coloured insanity, I shall focus on what events I attended day by day.

SDConventionCenter

Wednesday

"I'm going to use this bag to put bags in." - overheard in the Exhibit Hall

Having registered, we wandered around the convention center and completely failed to orientated ourselves. The airport was probably smaller than this place and rather less crowded. We trudged through acres of shiny, sterile whiteness with the kind of carpet that springs back from under tanks, Legends of Tomorrow back-packs crinkling awkwardly around our shoulders. I swapped mine for a Big Bang Theory, with a woman to whom it seemed to matter. If we did manage to locate the Ballroom or the signing area, it mattered not. There was nothing to tell us where the queues would start.

The Exhibit Hall itself was not an improvement, crammed as it was with people queuing for convention - only releases (figurines, plushies, insanity...). Finding ourselves more or less by accident beside the stall of artist Laurie Greasley, we bought a cute print of Jones holding a dead chest burster in his mouth and looking proud.

Thursday

"There appears to be a Pokémon on my boobs. That's an odd place for it to be." - overheard, again, in the Exhibit Hall.

Today was not overly crowded, but we began to see Deadpools (of both sexes), Green Arrows and Harley Quinn. Quinn and the Joker (varying versions) seemed a popular cosplay for couples, although the Green Arrows were often accompanied by a Black Canary, a Huntress, or both. David strolled along, a dapper John Constantine (comic version), but I woke up late and frazzled.

In order to break ourselves in gently, we repaired to the indie film festival and.viewed "Hoss", a revisionist, post-apocalyptic western by Christina Boland. Followed by "No Touching", a hilarious but expertly choreographed horror spoof featuring stunt women Zoe Bell and Heidi Moneymaker in a haunted house. The kind set up for Halloween, where masked attendants might think it funny to grope the female customers... for about 3 seconds.

We hopped from the Image Comics panel to the World of Warcraft:Legion preview (to me, it looks a lot like the old game did - you know, before the pandas), then we caught the "teaser" panel for the forthcoming Van Helsing TV series (which does look fun, but also like someone saw Daybreakers by the Spierig brothers and conveniently forgot about it). It was while we were heading towards the Indigo Ballroom (the first place we really had to queue) that we first saw the glistening, black vehicles, part limosine and part armoured personnel carrier, delivering their cargo of celebrities to guarded side doors.

We took the marvelously convenient free shuttle back to our hotel and ate steak at Dennys.

Friday

"Is it just me, or is it a lot hotter today?" - superb but wilting John Snow cosplayer, waiting for the shuttle. I'm afraid the general response consisted of witty variations on "Winter is coming."

Today, I woke up alone. David had gone in to the convention center at some obscene hour in order to queue for the tickets that would permit him to queue later for signings. From all reports, it was a complete fiasco and all he scored was Salem, which neither of us have seen. And yet, we would attend a signing today.

But first, I must tell you that today, I entered the convention in top hat and tails, fish net stockings and boots. When I found David, we made the most dashing Constantine and Zatanna imaginable. At least, a couple of people recognized me. About the same number, over the course of the weekend, who said they liked my other hat.

As said, David spotted it when the schedule of signings you did not need tickets for appeared the week prior. 11.00 at the Simon & Schuster stall, Beryl Evans would be signing her new book, Charlie the Choo Choo. Why did this lead to ourselves and a hoard of similarly lean and predatory types circling said stall like a pack of sharks from 10.00 am onwards? Because Beryl Evans exists nowhere except in the universe of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Her uniquely disturbing children's book prefigures the kà-tet's encounter with Blaine the Mono. So who was going to be at the Simon & Shuster stall and what exactly would they be doing?

JZ&Beryl

We absolutely not permitted to form a queue until nearly 11.00 am, when a young lady emerged holding a sign reading "Start of Line". She was immediately swamped by the crowd who up till that moment had been pretending great interest in the stalls on the corner or that they were resting in the lounge. It was the closest thing to a mob I'd been in since, again, Fury Road. But alternating threats and promises, the staff massaged us into single file. The fellow ahead of me in line was cosplaying Where's Wally, which demonstrates a kind of genius. The answer to the above questions turned out to be Beryl Evans (later research identified as her as an actress), signing copies of a disturbing children's book about a steam train. What we still don't know is why, although the upcoming Dark Tower film seems a good bet.

After this, we sidled into the last 10 minutes of a panel that seemed to be about William Shatner (who was not present) publishing a poem by Stan Lee (who was, for about five of those minutes). The room was not as crowded as you might imagine and we secured seats up the back. When the panel ended, we were able to improve our position substantially before the new audience entered. This turned out to be a reliable tactic we adopted during the remainder of the convention. We then watched the pilots for two half hour comedies. People of Earth and Powerless concern, respectively, a support group for alien abductees and the misadventures of an insurance assessor in the DC universe. I laughed louder at People but then, I think deer heads are funny. But then it was time for, as far as we were concerned, the main event. Brian Fuller (who also thinks deer heads are... something), Neil Gaiman and a whole load of intriguing actors talking about the TV adaptation of American Gods.

I have now attended three live appearances by Neil Gaiman, spanning a clear decade. At each one, I have seen people come up, say how much they adore him and thank him for changing their lives. I believe this makes him the most authentic deity that was in the room at that point, even given the presence of Brian Fuller. He and his co-producer Michael Green were apparently referred to as "husband budget murderers" on this post - Hannibal project. Which looks really, really good.

The remainder of the day was passed in dining and playing a quiet round of Martian Fluux in the Games Room, before The Australian Comics Explosion. Having to fly across the Pacific in order to discuss the original Fu Manchu novels with Chris Sequiera may seem a little excessive but, you know, if that's what it takes. Darren Koziol of Dark Oz was also there, with an exclusive SDCC edition of Dread. Which we bought.

Saturday

Now the crowds were getting serious. During an exploratory stroll through the Gaslamp District, we sighted the queue for the Game of Thrones exhibition. An hour before opening, it ran along three and a half sides of a sizeable city block. Actually reaching the Convention Center, through the choke point of the crossing over the rail and tramlines, took considerable patience and tolerance of physical contact. There were many, many police and also, serious cosplayers.I don't mean the couple who had dressed their baby as a seedling Groot, though that was very cute. I mean the people who had spent months and thousands of dollars on their costume, and put in just that bit more thought. The Harley Quinn circa 18th century ball gown, for instance. The Snow White/Boba Fett mash up. The trio consisting of Circe in her full coronation ensemble, Meister Qyburn and Septa Unella (Confess! You three actually get on just fine!). The all-female group consisting of Jareth the Goblin King, Sarah in her ball gown, Hoggle and the owl. The owl. And does Master Chief fight anything resembling a Rancor? Whatever that was took three people to animate.

So we struggled through the crowd and back to the Indigo Ballroom to catch the Lucifer panel. We used our technique, which led to us sitting through a quarter of an hour of The Power Puff Girls. And a full session on Blind Spot. And another on The Originals, which we hadn't seen either. By the time our show finally started, we were shaking and slightly nauseous. But then the cast began to sing, to the instrumental track that plays over the titles.

"Crime solvin' Devil: it makes sense! (Don't overthink it.)"

And that's why we like it.

Doing this had chewed up most of the day, so after a morsel of steak and salad at the Social Tap (by far the nicest spot we found), we split up. David went to queue for the Ash vs Evil Dead panel while I repaired to the Odysea Bar for the Horror Writers Association meet up. As I pushed through the crowd, I wondered how I was going to recognise a bunch of horror authors from their Facebook portraits. Perhaps, thought I, I should ask that fellow in the Dario Argento t-shirt?

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Suffice to say, I spent the next two hours chatting with some lovely people, including Janet Holden (author of the Blood vampire series), David Agranoff (The Vegan Revolution... with Zombies and many others), Dana Fredsti (the Plague Nation series) and convenor Kristina Grifant (her latest short, "Better Halves", is in The Lovecraft Ezine #36). It was also a pleasure to meet David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All. As you can imagine, the conversation was varied and interesting, but incorporating the traditional references to Australia's lethal wildlife (they were amused to hear that this now included Pokemon). My copy of Charlie the Choo Choo was duly admired and everyone wondered how they were going to get hold of the new Jonathan Maberry collection now that Mysterious Planet had sold out.

Apparently, the Ash vs Evil Dead panel was awesome.

Sunday

I had already noticed a guy hanging round the convention center, dressed as Jesus. I had assumed he was cosplaying the Buddy Christ from Dogma. But today, we walked through a gauntlet of street preachers, all assuring us that their God loved us and would send us to Hell if we didn't stop worshipping idols.

Cue the couple cosplaying the male and female Thor. And is it just me, or does Aquaman look remarkably like Hagrid these days?

Sunday was quieter and we were late, having spent the morning hunting for a usb adaptor in the Westfield across from our hotel. It was just as large as the one back home, only I do think that laying it all out on one level was cheating. We were nonetheless in time to see the art exhibition and get seats for our last string of panels.

"No Tow-Trucks Beyond Mars" was one of the highlights of our convention. Four scientist/engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory were asked to speak about their "Captain Kirk" moment, referring to that character's famous speech beginning, "I have cheated death… " I personally think that, in the quotes department, Shonte J Tucker gave him a run for his money.

"Your bird is on fire. Please answer your phone."

She was referring to an incident during the testing of the Dawn space probe, which was fortunately resolved.

This was followed by an entertaining look at the history of video games, and then ("Because we're the last panel at the con…") a presentation by the people behind Roll 20, the online platform that facilitates the playing of actual tabletop RPGS. Then security came and made us leave.

One last, celebratory plate of steak and salad (and the Social Tap's excellent fries), and it was back to the hotel to pack. According to David Agranoff, San Diego takes about a week to return to normal. I spent our last night hounded by visions of homeless men and women carrying Big Bang Theory backpacks and dressed in partial superhero costumes, warming themselves over bins of burning swag.

New Work: "The Stone of Sacrifice"
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Spectral Realms #4 is now available from Hippocampus Press!

This would be cause for celebration in any case, but I am particularly happy it contains my new poem, "The Stone of Sacrifice". As well as Margi Curtis's "The Ghosts of Samhain Past", Leigh Blackmore's "The Adverse Star" and "Souls of Samhain", a "Weird Tale" by Charles Danny Lovecraft, along with new works by Wade German, ankh_hpl, Ashley Dioses, KA Opperman, Adam Bolivar and many, many others!

This marks my second appearence in this journal, edited by S. T. Joshi and devoted to the darkly poetical. You may order a copy through this link here.

"The Stone of Sacrifice" is the direct result of attending the Aztecs exhibition at the Australian Museum in Sydney. That's on College Street, Sydney, for you Cthulhu buffs. I've been going there for decades and have never found the statue, but this time I at least found inspiration.

"You may well wonder how the stone survived.

Wasn't it destroyed? Wasn't it cast down

when soldiers sanctified by shot and steel

arrived to slaughter its red-handed priests

and sacked their city, melted down their gold?

And how could it endure the missionaries

that raised their cross upon the temple steps?

Then followed the accretion of clay brick,

of roads and rails, and concrete at the last..."


A List: My Hugo Picks
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Mainly for my own future reference, here is a list of those items I intend to nominate for the 2016 Hugo Awards, when nomination open in the near future. Although the result of frenetic reading and viewing, it does not include every category and some of those categories which do show up are covered pretty thinly. But the first round ballot for the Stokers has just been posted so I'm closing off my Hugo reading NOW.


I welcome comments, comparisons and discussion, but it'll have to be quick!



Novels

The Art of Effective Dreaming, Gillian Polack, Satalyte Publishing

Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson, Orbit

Persona, Genevieve Valentine, Saga

The Just City, Jo Walton, Tor

Novellas

"What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear", Bao Shu, trans. Ken Liu, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April

"The Whimper", Robert Hood, Peripheral Visions: the Collected Ghost Stories, IFWG Publishing Australia

The Box Jumper, Lisa Mannetti, Smart Rhino Publications

Binti, Nnedi Okorafor, a Tor.com book

Novelettes

"And The Balance In Blood", Elizabeth Bear, Uncanny #7

"Precious Things", V. H. Leslie, The Outsiders, ed. Joe Mynhardt, Crystal Lake Publishing

"Ambiguity Machines: an Examination", Vandana Singh, Tor.com, 29 April

"Hot Rods", Cat Sparks, Lightspeed #58



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Still Life With Vegetables
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The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland

An exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, viewed 9th January 2016.

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When I stepped into the final chamber, it was like a swarm of some glittering, humming insects clinging to the left hand wall. It drew me to it and there I stood with my friend Laura, gazing at a rendition of poplar trees beside a river. No deeper topic or focus, no great range of shades and those primarily green and blue. Yet I could not take my eyes away. It felt as if Poplars on the Epte, painted by Claude Monet in 1891, was rewiring my optic nerves.

There is nothing quite like seeing a work of art in the original. This is because no matter how carefully a print or photograph was taken, whatever pains were expended on the colours and tonal qualities, the paper stock and scale, it bears a relation to the original similar to that which canned fruit or vegetables bear to fresh. I find it's the same with music: no matter how much I love a recording, it is still canned music. All those glorious coffee table books in my library are canned art. This exhibition was a farmer's market.

I have never been to the National Gallery of Scotland. Neither, it seems, have I managed to see much Monet. And it was far from the only treasure in this compact yet wonderfully varied display, that commenced with a tiny piece of parchment on which Leonardo da Vinci had sketched a dog's paw. Some wonderfully curly dog with big, strong toes: a hunting hound, I have no doubt.

On the end wall of the same room was Mars, Venus and Cupid by Paolo Veronese, dated "about 1580". This was the wall and, in addition, clearly a studio piece with the models draped in textured fabrics and posed against a backdrop as lively as any stage set and bearing no little resemblance to 1890s photographic portrait. There was another dog, a little spaniel playfully mauling the child god, but the difference between this and the da Vinci could not have been more marked. Moreover, the tension between large and small, vision and composition, ran through the exhibit like currents.

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Tea and Biscuits
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TeaParty


"Heyla, heyla... c'mon, you know it now!"

"Heyla, heyla." The chant echoes back and forth, from the bedisked and furrowed ceiling of the Enmore Theatre, to the luminous blue stage. Row upon row of partially lit heads sway and sound, else glance around them with twitchy shoulders, as three layers of drumming abrades the third wall.

"Heyla... Heyla... you're doing voodo!" Never ceasing to drum, the central figure seems to smile with his entire body. "You're doing voodoo now!"

I came to The Tea Party so recently that I completely missed their reunion tour. I won't apologise for this: I spent my adolescence in a wasteland when it came to contemporary music, listening to Bach on cassette tape and attending the opera with my Nanna. When they toured last year upon the release of The Ocean at the End, I was in Europe, but now you may picture me travelling through Tuscany with Interzone Mantras playing as loud as my earbuds will permit in order to drown out the rest of the coach party.

But this is why I was so impressed with the T-shirt on the fellow standing two ahead of David and myself in the queue outside. It was the kind of grey that was originally black and the seams were splitting. Following a long list of locations and dates, it read THE EDGE OF TWILIGHT 1996. We were here, in the considerable humidity, to celebrate this album's 20th anniversary. Had this man really bought his T-shirt on that first tour, treasured it in some bottom drawer and resurrected it for the occasion? I might have tapped his fraying shoulder, and asked, except that the line started moving and I am besides, still shy.

The Tea Party are one of the most dazzlingly competent live acts that I have ever seen (which includes three different productions of The Magic Flute). How to explain what I mean? Perhaps I can cast it in literary terms. This trio are such superb co-writers, with such an eclectic vocabulary, that they can slip effortlessly from conventional, if evocative, third person perspective to omniscient narration, then quote relevant classics while engaging in intimate first person, and never once losing or confusing the reader: all this, in Jeff Martin's thrilling, dark-honey voice.

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